Victorian ALP heavies, running with rodents, National Party trailer park trash, Media Monitoring and oh so much more from the master/mistress of australian political gossip.

Did Victorian ALP factional heavies meet the weekend before Greg Wilton’s suicide and decide to deselect him, no matter the outcome of any legal action that may have occurred over the You Yangs incident? That’s the story that has done the rounds of Melbourne.

On Tuesday 13 June, the Herald Sun named four potential Labor candidates for Isaacs – including two from within the office of cleanskin Premier Steve Bracks – and gave details of left/right manoueverings over the seat. Wilton reportedly referred to the article in a final call to his brother-in-law, and one high-profile Labor backbencher is even claiming its publication was the final straw for the troubled PM.

It’s a brutal story, but politics is played brutally – despite all the pieties uttered last Monday. So why isn’t it being followed up?

The Rodent Runs For Cover

The Federal Government believes it will lose the next election. That’s the only conclusion that can be drawn from the announcement last Wednesday that the Libs will not contest the Isaacs by-election.

Although a by-election does not need to be called for three months, it will inevitably be seen as a referendum on the GST. Faced with this, the Government has decided it will duck the contest – in the most despicable way.

The announcement that the Liberals would not contest Isaacs came out late in the evening – too late for the main evening news broadcasts and into a news cycle completely dominated by the uproar that had occurred in Parliament that same day. That was gutless enough – but what was really contemptible was the reason given for the decision.

The media release read: “The last thing the people of Isaacs and Mr Wilton’s family want or need at this difficult time is a fiercely contested by-election… The sad nature of events that caused the vacancy in Isaacs meant the federal election, due to be held next year, would be a more appropriate time to contest the seat”.

It was issued in the name of the Victorian party president, Ian Carson – but anyone who thinks the decision was made without consultation with the very top presumably also believes in the healing powers of the breatharian lifestyle. Quite simply, the decision was made because the last thing the Prime Minister wants or needs his own Bass by-election.

The Government’s actions are even shabbier when we look at the history of who has held the seat:

Members for Isaacs:

1949-69 William Haworth (Liberal)
1969-74 David Hamer (Liberal)
1974-75 Gareth Clayton (ALP)
1975-77 David Hamer (Liberal)
1977-80 William Burns (Liberal)
1980-90 David Charles (ALP)
1990-96 Rod Atkinson (Liberal)
1996-2000Greg Wilton (ALP)

Isaacs is a textbook outer suburban marginal – but one the Liberals have had a great deal of success in. It has only been Labor for 16 of its 51 years – or around a third of the time.

Carson has called on others not to contest the seat of Isaacs, thereby ruling out the need for a vote, saying “the Liberal Party calls on our political friends and foes alike to honor the memory of Mr Wilton”. What egregious, nauseating, cynical crap.

The Government is ducking a contest it knows it will lose, a contest that will rattle its backbench, contest that will further widen tensions – including leadership tensions – and a contest that would give the ALP a whole new momentum.

However, our shameless PM can only delay – not avoid – his date with destiny. This decision shows just how completely rattled he is by the thought of the next election.

Trailer Trashed

Ah! The next election…

The problems of caravan park residents that exploded all over the National Party last week are not some sudden spontaneous eruption of public anger. Last week’s protest has come about as a result of several years of work by the NSW Labor Party in attempting to break down the National Party’s long term stranglehold on the NSW North Coast.

It has all come as a shock to the Canberra Press Gallery. This is not surprising given that they have always fallen about laughing at John Howard’s penchant for annual holidays at Hawkes Nest. To the average gallery wit, the residents of caravan parks are even lower on the social scale, or higher on the scale of mirth, depending on your point of view. To borrow an American phrase, they were a sort of aging “trailer park trash”, more than likely already Labor voters, so who cared if they were pissed of at their rents going up.

To set the dismissive straight, caravan park residents have long term grievances that needed to be paid attention to. Having paid tens and in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars for their “homes”, they faced almost no security over their residency, and little avenue by which their complaints against park proprietors could be dealt. While residents owned their “homes”, they never owned the property on which they lay. And while a tenant in a conventional house can always move if facing unjustified rent rises, caravan park residents can’t just move their “homes”. They are not living in some up-market Millard that can be towed from site to site. It requires major expenditure to move one of the “homes” used by permanent residents.

Which is where the NSW Labor Party comes in. If you ask around the party, many are of the view that park residents have traditionally been conservative voters, apart from the odd couple of hundred who had a habit of appearing on the electoral roll as soon as an election was called, but sadly seemed to be missing when the Australian Electoral Commission undertook its next roll review.

Late in 1998, as the state Liberal Party was busy decapitating its leader, an act with the humble title Residential Parks Act 1998 passed the New South Wales Parliament. It was aimed at trying to redress these grievances of Caravan Park residents, by giving them greater rights in relation to the rents and charges levied on them by Park owners. And it was gazetted into law on March 1 1999, just 26 days before the election at which the Carr government romped back into office. You can be sure that Labor Party made sure every caravan park resident in the state knew about it.

And have a quick look at following rank ordering of state electorates.

Proportion of dwellings which are caravans in caravan parks

1. 8.6% Tweed 2. 6.0% Ballina 3. 5.9% Clarence 4. 5.3% Port Macquarie 5. 4.6% Coffs Harbour 6. 4.2% Oxley 7. 4.0% Bega 8. 4.0% Myall Lakes

Clearly, there were a lot of park residents that Labor thought they could win over with the new laws. And – after a quick glance at the above table – try Hillary’s quick quiz:

Q. Which electorate did Labor win on March 27 1999 for the time in its history?

A. Tweed

Q. Which state seat did NSW Labor win at a by-election, and hold on to by winning a swing of more than 8% at the state election?

A. Clarence

Q. Which two electorates are contained within the Federal electorate of Richmond, held by the increasingly pale looking Larry (don’t call me Doug) Anthony?

A. Tweed and Ballina

Q. Which of the above state seats does not lie in a marginal Federal NSW Coalition seat?

A. Trick question. They all lie in marginal electorates.

Mind you, if Hillary was one of the caravan park activists, Hillary would be worried at which Labor apparachik was leading the troops at Tweed Heads last weekend. Ask some of Wayne Swan’s Labor party colleagues in Queensland about how much you can believe his deals.

Then, of course, there is the question of L-plate Larry’s actual margin in Richmond. Everyone is running around quoting 0.8% as his margin, but there has been a redistribution. Needless to say, it has made the seat even more marginal for young Larry, and it only sits on the pendulum as high as 0.1% because you don’t normally publish estimated margins to two decimal places.

You wonder how much the government will need to spend to save the L-plater. In 1990, Charles Blunt, one of the National Party’s shorter term incumbent leaders, managed to lose Richmond despite spending a quarter of a million dollars on direct mail (although there have always been questions as to whether that mail was actually addressed to Richmond residents).

Of course, there will be some in the NSW Liberal Party who won’t shed a tear over the Nationals losing a few North Coast seats. They have been dying to have a crack at them for years, and when Labor wins a seat, the Liberals earn the right to contest the seat at the next election. They gave Lyne a good shake in 1980, Cowper in 1984, and came within two votes of topping the Nats in Lyne in 1990. And right-wing former test cricketer Bruce Francis even gave the Nationals a scare when young Larry unsuccessfully contested Richmond in 1993.

And by the way, Larry lost in 1993 because of the GST. Deja vu? Looks like a few other Government MPs will get trailer trashed.

Media Monitoring

There’s been plenty of news footage of the PM and Treasurer doing radio interviews on the GST this week – but the programs they’ve been on are probably more interesting than their comments.

The Government seems to be restricting itself to ABC morning radio – AM, Radio National, even Bolshie old John Faine on 3LO. With the Parrot on leave, 2UE mightn’t be as fawning as usual – but it’s odd not to have seen the PM pop up on 3AW or 6PR or 5DN.

Surely O’Dreary and Co haven’t been worried that talk back won’t be kind if the PM goes on and takes call?

Waste Paper

Last week, John Anderson put out a press release that opened “An estimated seven million pieces of litter are strewn across Australia’s national highways according to the first comprehensive survey of rubbish conducted by Keep Australia Beautiful…”

He wasn’t referring to the seven million direct mail letter from the short bloke on the GST that were supposed to have been binned, was he?

Midget Mauls Big Beefy Bastard

Ouch! Peter Reith was slapped down hard – and fast – by Peter Costello’s office when he volunteered that the GST would raise $3 billion in extra revenue above Treasury forecasts. But did he expect the same treatment from the PM himself?

Party Room Brief

Each week the Bible bashing Member for Menzies, Kevin Andrews, provides Gallery hacks with a bowdlerized brief on the government party room meeting – but for some reason the Financial Review and the Age chose to run versions of the last meeting that probably differed.

Ho Chi Minchin copped a bollocking over low volume car imports from MPs – including fellow right wingers Gary Hardgrave and Bob Charles and former Minister Judi Moylan – that made it onto the Fin’s front page the following day.

The day after that, a letter from the trio appeared in the Fin clarifying their statement – and this time an additional seven MPs (two of them also former ministers) – Mal Washer, David Jull, Ian Macfarlane, Julie Bishop, Teresa Gambaro, Barry Haase and Geoff Prosser – and three Senators – Alan Eggleston, Sue Knowles and Winston Crane – also wanted to express their dismay with Ho’s plans.

Timing’s Everything

It was fascinating to see the first ever op-ed piece by John Brogden, the young pretender to the New South Wales Liberal leadership, pop up in the Fin the very day of the confidence vote in Chikka. Quite a coincidence!

PS Hillary got a cruel e-mail after John-Boy’s appearance in the column last week that claimed he cried when denied the numbers for the national Young Liberal presidency. Surely the lad was just demonstrating his new style, sensitive credentials?

Be Prepared

News of another wannabe state leader arrives on Hillary’s desk. There is talk in Queensland that Santo Santoro has taken on coalition negotiations himself, offering to give the Nats the Brisbane seat of Albert if they will give the Liberals Cairns – an interesting gambit given that the Nats have local darling, defeated member for Mulgrave and former Borbidge government cabinet minister Naomi Wilson, lined up for the seat.

Has he found a sure vote who wants to run?

Lest We Forget

While in Queensland, Hillary has a good memory – particularly when it comes to holding grudges – but forgot this choice little bit of info when mentioning Slippery Pete Slipper, the Joh Nat turned Liberal MP last week.

Peter Walsh, in his hilarious book Confessions of a Failed Former Finance Minister, claims that, back in 87, Slipper was so sure Joh would romp into the top job that he bought a large new house in Canberra worthy of a soon-to-be cabinet minister.

Slipper’s past was also raised last week in that classy joint, the Queensland Parliament, in a, er, broad ranging speech by Labor MLA John Mickel.

According to Mickel, Slipper told the Sydney Morning Herald back at the height of the Joh campaign “the vision I have is of a country where people have to work for the dole, strikes are banned in many industries, and a man aged 75 is running it all”.

Well, we’ve now got work for the dole and a bloke who thinks like a 75 year old running the show. Two out of three ain’t bad, hey Pete?

Never Surrender !

The Republic referendum may be long since gone, but the Monarchist League are fighting on to crush the Fenians and other traitors in those nests of vipers, er, the Boy Scouts, um, the Reserve Bank and Toyota (Hillary thought the last lot might worship the Emperor, but that’s another story).

Just have a look at these highlights from an e-mail message recently circulated to Monarchist League supporters by coordinator Philip Benwell:

“The members of the National Council of Scouts Australia were intensely lobbied to vote against the surreptitious proposals to remove The Queen from the Scout and Cub Promise.

“The republican elements within the Scouting Movement realising that the votes would go against them WITHDREW THEIR MOTION.

“We will never win the war, but we can, we must and we will win each battle. Our campaign to retain the Queen’s Head on the five dollar note is continuing…

“Emailing has helped us win several campaigns. Whereas most should have the support of persons within Australia only, some campaigns, such as those against multi-national corporations (i.e. Toyota with their “Don’t worry Your Majesty you’re not the only British Export to have had its day”) need to be conducted on a world-wide basis.

“Please help us as we continue to defend and promote our system of Constitutional Monarchy.”

The Monarchist League, of course, make Kerry Jones and Co at Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy look positively pink. This is radical stuff for them – Hillary thought that when they wanted to send a message, they sent the butler round.

Sex Scandal

National Party leader John Anderson has already warned his parliamentary colleagues about the dangers of falling prey to the lures of the flesh.

Is that why – batting down opponents of dairy deregulation at the Nat’s federal conference – he didn’t actually quote Section 92 of the Constitution and its provisions for free “trade, commerce and intercourse among the States”?

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

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